Borough backs $121.4M budget proposal

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Naugatuck officials review the proposed 2018-19 budget during a meeting Monday night at Town Hall. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Borough officials backed a budget proposal for 2018-19 that increases spending by more than $1 million but is expected to reduce the mill rate slightly.

The Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance Monday night approved a $121.4 million budget proposal to send to a public hearing. The budget proposal increases spending by about $1.03 million, or 0.85 percent, over the current budget.

The bulk of the spending increase comes in insurance, which is going up $757,723, or 7.1 percent, to $11.4 million due primarily to increases in rates and workers’ compensation.

“I think it is a fair budget that takes into account the needs of the taxpayers while making sure we have a strong infrastructure to support the needs of the town,” Board of Finance Chairman Dan Sheridan said.

Despite spending going up, officials anticipate the mill rate will decrease by 0.15 mills, or 0.3 percent, to 48.4 mills, based on current revenue projections.

A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Under a 48.4 mill rate, a taxpayer with property assessed at $150,000 would pay $7,260 in taxes, a decrease of $22.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the likely decrease in the mill rate comes despite the fact that the borough is expected to receive $3.7 million less from the state than in the current budget.

“The fact that we are not only able to hold the mill rate but reduce it slightly and still provide all the services, including paving roads at a much greater clip than in the past, shows that the entire finance board and burgesses did a great job with the budget,” Hess said.

The borough offset the loss in state aid and the overall spending increase with increases in other revenues.

The biggest chunk comes under general property taxes where officials project the borough will raise more than $3 million in 2018-19 than this fiscal year. There is a projected $1.85 million increase in motor vehicle taxes alone because the state is raising the cap on car taxes from 37 mills to 45 mills.

Under the budget proposal, the school budget would stay flat at roughly $61.68 million.

Earlier this month, the Board of Education presented a budget that sought an increase of $482,567. The finance board subsequently shaved off more than $166,000 from the request, and on Monday decided not to fund any increase for the school budget.

Members of the joint boards raised concerns over the size and frequency of surpluses in the school budget. The school board finished the 2016-17 fiscal year with a budget surplus of $525,681.

Even with a flat budget this fiscal year, the school board could have a surplus, officials said.

“They said last year that, if they took a big hit from the state to the tune of $1 million, they could absorb it,” Burgess Robert Neth said.

Sheridan, who felt there hadn’t been enough transparency with the school budget throughout the years, said any increase would raise the minimum budget requirement. Under state law, the Naugatuck school budget can’t be cut because the borough is an alliance district.

“It will be a fixed number forever because it constitutes a new minimum budget requirement. You’ll never be able to drop it below that,” Sheridan said.

The decision to keep education funding flat wasn’t unanimous as Hess, Deputy Mayor Laurie Taf Jackson, Burgess Bob Burns, and finance board members Diane Scinto, Sara Euvino and Robert Burke voted against it.

This would be the third year in a row the Board of Education hasn’t received an increase in its budget.

Another topic of debate among the joint boards was whether to fund the first payment for a new firetruck — $183,333 — under capital projects.

The payment in the 2018-19 budget would be the first of three for a new firetruck, which would replace Engine 5 at the Naugatuck Fire Department. The department is also looking to replace a ladder truck in the near future. The trucks are near the end of their lives, according to officials.

Most members of the joint boards favored of the purchase.

Board of Finance member Andrew Bottinick argued that putting off financing items led to the borough underfunding its pensions for many years and then bonding to correct the error.

“That was something we kicked down the road and through the years. I don’t even want to think about how much interest we have had to pay on that bond to make up for the sins of our fathers,” Bottinick said.

Euvino agreed, saying the borough would have to face purchasing multiple fire engines at one time if it didn’t begin the process now.

“Do you want to buy two engines in 2021? Hell no,” Euvino said. “It is irresponsible, knowing the situation we are in right now, to say in 20 years the finance board is going to have to do this same thing.”

The budget will now go to a public hearing on May 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Board of Education office, 497 Rubber Ave. The joint boards will then meet May 17 to review and adopt the budget.